Talking Cure

Rich spent a few days on regrets. If he had been more aggressive with the State Department, could the adoption have happened in less time? If he had pressed Michael’s grandmother for direct contact with the boy sooner, what would he have learned about the uncle’s house? But he veered back to the present and the current task.

Later that week, he sat down with Michael and explained what was about to happen. A visitor came in the early morning the next day. He was middle aged and kind looking, flecks of gray in his brown hair and beard. His eyes were deep set as if to protect them from the things they saw. He offered his right hand to Michael and said hello in a deep voice. In his left hand was a notebook and pen. Rich steered them through one of the secret doors off the living room, into a narrow, carpeted office with a skylight. The visitor sat in the arm chair; Rich and Michael on the sofa opposite. There were paper and crayons, blocks and dolls on the table between them. Once Michael had settled and was answering questions spontaneously, Rich slipped out the door.

The visitor and the boy sat together for an hour that day, talking about his parents and the uncle’s house, and again two days later, their conversation usually curtailed by rips of terror when Michael seemed to flee out of his skin while glued to the sofa. That was all I saw of the contents of those hours; the walls and doors of the carpeted room were shielded and I couldn’t penetrate them. After three weeks, the visitor stayed later than usual to take Rich aside.  I don’t think this is going to work unless you come in with him, he told Rich. From then on, Rich joined them for each session. At night, he lay down next to Michael’s bed until the boy fell asleep.

Michael started school with the other children. After a year, the visitor gave him a farewell hug. Michael grew six feet tall and brilliant, as he was meant to.

“Where would a child get the notion of how psychotherapy works?” I asked Blue. I did not know the term psychologist until I was in junior high, and then knew only that they were sometimes professors who did experiments, as a classmate’s father did. In high school, I learned that the Highland twins’ mother was a psychotherapist, which meant to me only that she had patients, people who were not functioning quite right. In my late twenties while grieving over the sudden death of a friend, I sought out a therapist because people told me I should, and because she was willing to hold sessions by phone so that I wouldn’t have to commute cross town while exhausted from overnight call at the hospital; in the end, she didn’t help much. And here I was, coming in middle age to understanding how the talking cure actually works. How did Rich and Michael figure it out so long ago? What else did they know that I didn’t?

“I find it remarkable, too,” Blue confessed, “that you intuited what Michael needed.”

I thought about blond, blue-eyed Rich flying halfway around the globe to rescue Michael and staying by him for as long as was needed, and about the narrow, carpeted room. My eyes swept over the rug beneath my boots, the brown sofa cushions, slanted light from an eastern window sieved through wooden shutters and striking the opposite wall, the paneled and sound proofed office door, the notepad in his lap, and in his leather arm chair, the lanky, comfortable man with blond curls and blue eyes gazing back at me in this secret healing space.

“You can understand my confusion?”

Blue nodded.

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